You just opened up your mail and… uh oh… you have been summoned for jury duty! Suppose this is your first time getting a jury duty summons. In that case, you might be wondering what exactly jury duty is and what you will have to do. You may be feeling majorly inconvenienced and annoyed. Maybe you’re wondering what would happen if you just blew off jury duty entirely. Probably nothing, right? Wrong.
Jury duty is one of our most important civic duties as Americans, and while almost nobody enjoys getting summoned to serve on a jury, it is something that we all must do at one point or another. Maybe you don’t care all that much about your civic duties. So, exactly what happens if you miss jury duty?
Unfortunately, you could face several serious legal consequences and penalties if you don’t show up. The possible outcomes of not showing up for jury duty include receiving a warning in the mail, getting fined between 100 and 1500 dollars, getting charged with contempt of court, time in jail, or, if you’re lucky, nothing at all.
Read on to learn about what jury duty is, what happens if you don’t show up for jury duty, and what the valid excuses are for missing jury duty.
What Is Jury Duty?
Jury duty is a court order to appear for jury service. The Sixth Amendment of the Constitution guarantees all Americans charged with a crime the right to a speedy and public trial, the right to a lawyer, and the right to an impartial jury of one’s peers. Americans are required to report for jury service whenever they are summoned. This requirement helps to protect everyone’s constitutional rights. Remember that if you were accused of a crime, you would want fair and impartial people to serve on your jury. Jurors are a vital part of our criminal justice system.
You may be summoned to serve on either a criminal trial or a civil trial. A criminal trial is when someone is accused of a crime against society as a whole. The jury will be made up of twelve people and a few alternates. A unanimous decision will have to be reached among the jurors to determine the case’s verdict. In a civil trial, litigants seek remedies for private wrongs that do not necessarily impact society as a whole. These trials are usually made up of at least six jurors. Once again, jurors must reach a unanimous decision.
How does the jury selection system even work, anyway? Maybe you’re frustrated because this is your third time getting jury duty summons in the last five years, but your spouse has never been summoned once. Is the system rigged against you? The answer is no—the selection process is entirely random. A computer randomly selects prospective jurors from a pool of registered voters and individuals in the driver’s license database.
There is no limit on the number of times you can be summoned for jury duty. Some people are just luckier– or unluckier– than others (depending on how you look at it!) in the number of times they get summoned. However, one small silver lining is that once you report for service, your name cannot be called again for another 12 months. If you actually serve on a jury, you cannot be summoned again for two to three years (depending on what state you live in). After that, your name will go back into the database.
What Happens if I Don’t Show Up for Jury Duty?
Jury duty is, without a doubt, an inconvenience. You’ll have to miss work, drive downtown, wander cluelessly around a stuffy courthouse, and potentially wait around for hours for your number to maybe be called. But try to remember that it is a privilege to live in a country with a fair system that ensures us the right to an impartial jury. Better yet, it is a privilege to be eligible for jury duty in the first place. Convicted felons and people with severe physical and mental illnesses cannot serve on a jury. Try to be thankful for your situation before you groan too much about jury duty and consider not showing up at all.
There are several possible outcomes for skipping jury duty, and they are largely dependent on the judge’s discretion. In reality, the most common result of ignoring jury duty is nothing at all. You might just get away with it and be able to go on with your life as though nothing happened. But this is not guaranteed and is not recommended because the potential penalties can be severe. Never assume that the court will not take action against you. You run the risk of getting a judge who is fed up with no-shows and is willing to punish you as harshly as possible.
Another expected outcome of skipping jury duty is receiving a second summons in the mail, often with a warning on it. The warning will say that missing jury duty is punishable with a fine. It is highly advisable that you do not ignore the second summons. Appearing in court for the second summons is usually enough to clear your name and avoid repercussions.
Suppose you continue to ignore your summons; the chances of facing the consequences get higher and higher. Continuing to ignore a warrant may be treated as contempt of court and penalized with fines, jail time, or both. Contempt of court is a criminal charge that can be punishable with up to five days in jail and $1000 in fines. Suddenly, skipping jury duty sounds like a horrible idea!
If you continue to ignore your summons and warnings, the judge can send you a failure to appear notice that will demand you to appear in court. If this is ignored as well, the judge can issue you an order to show cause, which requires that you appear before the judge and explain why you missed the court date. This will be a huge hassle, and by this point, you’ll surely be wondering why you didn’t just respond to your summons in the first place!
Are There Any Legitimate Ways to Get Excused From Jury Duty?
As stated previously, convicted felons and people with serious mental and physical illnesses are ineligible to serve on a duty. Some people are eligible to be excused from jury duty legally. Circumstances that may legally excuse you from jury duty include being over 70, being the sole caregiver of a child who is six years of age or younger, being the sole caregiver of someone who is permanently disabled, being a full-time student, and being a home study program teacher.
Other valid excuses for missing jury duty include prior jury service within the last 12 months, no means of transportation to the court, having to travel more than 90 minutes to the court, extreme financial burden of serving on a jury, significant risk of undue mental or physical hardship from serving on a jury, being needed for the protection of public health or safety (i.e., police officers), and active military duty. Keep in mind that if any of those situations apply to you, the judge may choose to postpone your service rather than excuse it.
If none of those situations apply to you, then you are going to have to report for jury duty. However, just because you received a summons does not mean you will actually have to serve on a jury. The court summons many more people for jury duty than the number of jurors needed. As a result, it is common for people to get summoned and not end up having to serve on a jury. It is also important to remember that if you are unable to be impartial about the case, you will be excused from jury duty.
Final Thoughts – What Happens if You Miss Jury Duty?
While receiving a jury duty summons usually is not something that is celebrated, you simply cannot ignore it. The right to a trial by jury is one of the most important rights we have as Americans and fulfilling your civic duty allows us to continue to benefit from that right. Plus, the consequences of missing jury duty can far outweigh the inconvenience of serving on a jury to begin with. So next time you get summoned for jury duty, make sure you show up!
Hi! I’m Jensen Skinner. I have my MA in Forensic Psychology and have a passion for writing. My favorite topics to write about include psychology, criminology, police, law, finance, and lifestyle blogging! If you need a writer, please reach out to me on LinkedIn and I’d be happy to see if we can work together.